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Medical Scientists

At a Glance

  • Conduct research to find causes of disease
  • Have good analytical and research skills
  • Work with staff, research subjects, and doctors
  • Often work for research firms, hospitals, and drug companies
  • Have a PhD or MD degree

Career summary

Medical scientists conduct research to find causes of and treatments for disease.

Medical scientists conduct basic research to advance knowledge of living organisms. For example, they study things such as:

Medical scientists also study ways to make the human body better able to fight disease.

Scientists who work in applied research use knowledge provided by basic research to develop new drugs and treatments.

Medical scientists plan their research design. They prepare samples according to the design of their study. Some studies analyze changes in cells that signal medical problems.

Other research investigates how to treat or prevent problems. For example, a study might look at the effects of a drug on bacteria or the effects of a drug on the tissues of laboratory animals. Some researchers perform clinical drug trials with humans.

Scientists in the field of biotechnology work with genetic material to find ways to treat or prevent disease.

Medical scientists write reports or articles to present their findings. They also make presentations at conferences. At universities, they write grants to request funding to continue their research.

Medical scientists also study reports of research done by other scientists in their field. They consult with doctors, educators, and other researchers about their medical findings. Scientists may teach medical principles and lab procedures to staff who help collect data. They may also supervise the duties of clerical, computer, or lab staff.

Scientists who work for government agencies confer with health departments, doctors, and others. Their goal is to develop policies to improve public health. In some cases, they oversee public health programs.

Related careers

This career is part of the Health Science cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Military careers

Job duties

Task list

The following list of tasks is specific to medical scientists.

Common work activities

Medical scientists perform the following tasks. These tasks are common to many careers.

Work requirements

Working conditions

In a typical work setting, medical scientists:

Interpersonal relationships

Physical work conditions

Work performance


Physical demands

Medical scientists frequently:

It is important for medical scientists to be able to:

It is not as important, but still necessary, for medical scientists to be able to:

Skills and abilities

Medical scientists need to:


Reason and problem solve

Use math and science

Manage oneself, people, time, and things

Work with people

Work with things

Perceive and visualize

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study directly related to this occupation

Other programs of study to consider


To work as a medical scientist, you typically need to:

Education after high school

Most medical scientists have a doctoral degree (PhD) in medical science. In this program you study medical problems and diseases. To treat patients, you must also have a medical degree (MD). You need a doctoral degree to lead research projects or teach at a college or university.

A master's degree in biology may be all you need for jobs in research. Research assistants often have only a bachelor's degree. Most colleges and universities offer bachelor's degrees in biology. Many also offer advanced degrees in life science or medicine.

Work experience

After completing a doctoral degree, some medical scientists work as postdoctoral fellows (postdocs). These university positions last for several years. Postdocs get experience working with other scientists. This research can lead to a teaching or research job at a university.

Military training

The military does not provide initial training in this field. However, the military may provide work experience to medical scientists who have a master's degree or higher.

Helpful high school courses

In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum (external link) may be different from your state's graduation requirements (external link). Medical scientists need a strong background in science and math. Try to take science classes through Physics and math classes through Trigonometry.

You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Here are examples of activities and groups (PDF file) that may be available in your high school or community.

Things to know

Employers in research settings prefer to hire medical scientists with both a doctoral degree (PhD) and a medical degree (MD). Experience in postdoctoral research positions is also preferred. In some institutions, a postdoctoral job can lead to a permanent job.

Costs to workers

Some workers may wish to join a professional association, which may have annual dues.


Medical scientists typically do not need to be licensed. However, scientists who administer drugs, gene therapy, or practice medicine on patients in clinical trials or a private practice need a license to practice as a physician. See the Family and General Practitioners occupation in WOIS for more information.

Job listings

Listed below are links to job categories from the National Labor Exchange that relate to this career. Once you get a list of jobs, you can view information about individual jobs and find out how to apply. If your job search finds too many openings, or if you wish to search for jobs outside of Washington, you will need to refine your search.

To get a listing of current jobs from the WorkSource system, go to the WorkSource website (external link).


Epidemiologists (SOC 19-1041)

Pay Period
Washington Hourly $28.87 $34.30 $42.21 $51.33 $81.04
Monthly $5,003 $5,944 $7,315 $8,895 $14,044
Yearly $60,060 $71,340 $87,790 $106,770 $168,560
    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Hourly $28.70 $34.29 $43.42 $67.93 $98.10
Monthly $4,974 $5,942 $7,525 $11,772 $17,001
Yearly $59,701 $71,324 $90,324 $141,290 $204,051
    Vancouver Hourly $28.95 $33.39 $40.46 $43.59 $49.67
Monthly $5,017 $5,786 $7,012 $7,554 $8,608
Yearly $60,201 $69,452 $84,169 $90,669 $103,324
United States Hourly $20.31 $26.41 $33.49 $43.25 $54.13
Monthly $3,520 $4,577 $5,804 $7,495 $9,381
Yearly $42,240 $54,930 $69,660 $89,950 $112,600

Medical scientists, except epidemiologists (SOC 19-1042)

Pay Period
Washington Hourly $23.35 $28.65 $37.83 $51.61 $67.13
Monthly $4,047 $4,965 $6,556 $8,944 $11,634
Yearly $48,570 $59,590 $78,680 $107,340 $139,630
    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Hourly $23.65 $28.84 $37.93 $51.79 $68.12
Monthly $4,099 $4,998 $6,573 $8,975 $11,805
Yearly $49,195 $60,005 $78,885 $107,714 $141,687
    Vancouver Hourly $22.79 $27.43 $34.82 $47.53 $62.42
Monthly $3,950 $4,754 $6,034 $8,237 $10,817
Yearly $47,404 $57,055 $72,424 $98,877 $129,835
United States Hourly $22.51 $28.64 $40.77 $56.75 $75.47
Monthly $3,901 $4,963 $7,065 $9,835 $13,079
Yearly $46,810 $59,580 $84,810 $118,040 $156,980

Wages vary widely by employer and area of the country. Wages may also vary depending on the scientist's education and professional reputation.

Benefits also vary by employer. Most full-time medical scientists receive typical benefits. These include vacation, sick leave, and health insurance.

Employment and outlook

Washington outlook

The table below provides information about the number of workers in this career in various regions. It also provides information about the expected growth rate and future job openings.

Epidemiologists (SOC 19-1041)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 382 14.1% 16.1% 44
    Clark, Cowlitz, and Wahkiakum Counties 40 15.0% 15.2% 4
    Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Pacific, and Thurston Counties 84 8.3% 14.1% 9
    King County 228 17.5% 19.6% 28
    Pierce County 12 16.7% 15.2% 1
    Spokane County 12 16.7% 13.9% 1
United States 7,600 5.3% 5.2% 700

Medical Scientists, Except Epidemiologists (SOC 19-1042)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 5,886 19.9% 16.1% 771
    Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens, Walla Walla, and Whitman Counties 105 2.9% 8.6% 9
    Benton and Franklin Counties 14 7.1% 15.0% 1
    Clallam, Jefferson, and Kitsap Counties 22 22.7% 11.9% 3
    Clark, Cowlitz, and Wahkiakum Counties 131 15.3% 15.2% 16
    King County 5,055 22.2% 19.6% 692
    Pierce County 44 18.2% 15.2% 5
    Snohomish County 404 17.1% 12.4% 50
    Spokane County 339 23.3% 13.9% 47
United States 130,700 8.0% 5.2% 13,200

National employment

Major employers:

National outlook

Demand will be strong for this occupation. Much of the job growth for medical scientists is expected to come from increased medical research. The increase in the aging population increases the need for new pharmaceuticals and medical procedures. Funding for AIDS, cancer, and Alzheimer's disease research is predicted to grow.

Despite this growth, competition will be keen for basic research positions. Government grants will have a strong impact on future growth.

Other resources

American Association for Clinical Chemistry (external link)
900 Seventh Street NW, Suite 400
Washington, DC 20001
American Association for the Advancement of Science (external link)
1200 New York Ave, NW
American Association of Anatomists (external link)
6120 Executive Boulevard, Suite 725
Rockville, MD 20852
American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (external link)
2107 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 700
Arlington, VA 22201
American College of Medical Toxicology (external link)
10645 N. Tatum Blvd Suite 200-111
Phoenix, AZ 85028
American Institute for Medical & Biological Engineering (external link)
1400 I Street NW
Suite 235
Washington, DC 20006
American Institute of Biological Sciences (external link)
1800 Alexander Bell Drive, Suite 400
Reston, VA 20191
American Medical Association (external link)
American Medical Informatics Association (external link)
American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (external link)
11200 Rockville Pike
Ste 302
Rockville, MD 20852-3110
American Society for Cell Biology (external link)
American Society for Microbiology Podcasts (external link)
American Society for Virology (external link)
Association for Molecular Pathology (external link)
6120 Executive Blvd., Suite 700
Rockville, MD 20852
Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (external link)
1400 Crystal Drive, Suite 900
Arlington, VA 22202
Bioinformatics Organization (external link)
Biophysical Society (external link)
5515 Security Lane, Suite 1110
Rockville, MD 20852
Genetics Education Center (University of Kansas Medical Center) (external link)
Life Science Washington (external link)
188 East Blaine Street
Suite 150
Seattle, WA 98102
National Academy of Sciences Interviews (external link)
Neuroscience for kids (external link)
Parenteral Drug Association (external link)
Bethesda Towers
4350 East West Highway, Suite 600
Bethesda, MD 20814
Science Careers (external link)
Society for Neuroscience (external link)
1121 14th Street NW, Suite 1010
Washington, DC 20005
The American Physiological Society (external link)
9650 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, MD 20814
The American Society of Human Genetics (external link)
6120 Executive Blvd., Suite 500
Rockville, MD 20852
Washington State Science & Engineering Fair (external link)


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net (external link) occupations

O*Net job zone (external link)

DOT occupations

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